In the Market
for a New Driveway?
A driveway can say as much about a home as the home
itself. Most homeowners don't give much thought to their
driveway, especially if it's safe, durable and attractive.
But a problem driveway can become a homeowner's nightmare
and can affect the appearance and value of the property.
A gravel driveway, for example works well in rural and
wooded properties where the home is set back a distance
from the road. But even on long, flat road stretches,
gravel can easily be washed out by a major downpour.
Meanwhile, a steep driveway - regardless of the surface
finish - can collect so much ice in winter that your car
just never makes it up. Then you have the driveway that
feeds into the intersection of two or three streets. No
matter how perfect, this driveway is a daily traffic
challenge. Finally, there are the driveways of some older
homes that are so narrow some cars just can't squeeze
But a driveway is for more than just cars. If you are
considering re-doing yours, take time to think about how
it will be used. Will your cars be parked in the garage or
on the drive? Are your kids going to be shooting hoops on
the driveway? Where do you plan to put the snow when you
shovel your drive? How long is it? Before deciding when
and how to resurface your driveway, here are a few tips to
keep in mind.
Driveways should be as straight and short as possible. The
main exception is a driveway on a steep lot: by
lengthening the drive, you can reduce the grade. Any grade
that exceeds a 12-foot rise in 100 feet (12 per cent) is
not ideal. But driveways shouldn't be totally level
either; if you want surface water to drain away from your
home, you need a minimum two percent slope.
Check your subsoil
Before deciding on what finish surface you want, consider
what's supporting your driveway. Soils behave differently
depending on their composition. Organic soils such as
peat, for example, are not very good at holding up
anything - especially a driveway supporting heavy
vehicles. Clay and silt soils turn to mud easily. Sandy
soils are great because they drain well. But soils that
blend clay, silt and sand or gravel are also very
adequate, if well drained.
If you don't know what kind of soil you are sitting on, it
might be worth getting a soil expert to test it. You can
less accurately test the soil yourself by stripping a
patch of topsoil and seeing how well the subsoil drains in
a heavy rain.
Consider surface options
The four most common driveway finish surfaces are asphalt,
concrete, gravel and pavers. Consider the advantages and
disadvantages of each before deciding which finish surface
is best for you.
Asphalt - This is a common material used for driveways. It
is fairly inexpensive and durable but definitely not a
do-it-yourself project. The asphalt must be placed while
still hot from the delivery truck. It is spread in an even
layer and compacted with a roller before it cools down.
While durable, asphalt can soften and is easily gouged in
hot temperatures. This is actually an advantage in cold
temperatures. Because it absorbs the heat, ice and snow
melt faster on asphalt than on some other surfaces.
Unfortunately, gasoline and motor oil also dissolve on it
and spills can leave permanent spots. Materials are often
added to the asphalt to create a longer-lasting finish,
but this generally increases the cost.
Concrete - Basic concrete slabs can cost about twice as
much as asphalt for the same size driveway, but are
longer-lasting. Pouring the cement slabs requires a
certain degree of expertise and most homeowners should
hire a professional to do the job. An alternative to the
standard white concrete slab is to expose the aggregate
below. This creates a rougher surface which is attractive
and provides good traction.
Gravel - Gravel is probably the most inexpensive surface
finish for driveways, but can be a lot of work. If you
don't keep runoff from rain and snow away from the
driveway, you could find yourself shoveling it back off
the street regularly. Also, it's difficult to keep gravel
in place on higher grades. Putting more gravel down is not
the solution. Gravel should not be spread more than two
inches in depth. The more you put down, the worse it is
Pavers - The Romans built their roads with packed
aggregate and cobblestone pavers for good reason. It kept
their feel and wheels dry. This technology works just as
well today. Fortunately, we're no longer limited to just
using cobblestones. Interlocking concrete pavers today
come in all shapes, colours, sizes, styles and textures.
They not only beautify the overall appearance of a home
but can last half a century or more when installed
correctly. Poured concrete, asphalt and gravel have a much
shorter life span.
Because they are time-consuming to install, pavers can be
quite expensive, especially if you have a large driveway.
But the added value may be well worth the extra cost.
Driveway pavers can be coordinated with pavers in other
areas such as walkways, patios, pool decks and gardens.
They don't crack with the freeze-thaw cycle in winter,
provide excellent traction, resist de-icing salts and any
oil or antifreeze that may leak from vehicles.